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Engaging Your Brand’s Best Asset: Your Passionate Employees

Remember what it was like, back in the day, when you were energized by your job, passionate about changing the world, and committed to work that had a higher meaning for you?

And here you are now in a leadership role, running a better-for-you brand, perhaps one you launched.

Your brand’s success and your company’s legacy depend on having employees who are just as energized, passionate, and committed as you were when you started.

Are they? Are you, still?

Employee Engagement Is the Heart of a Solid Brand

Employee engagement is the heart of today’s most beloved brands. These category leaders aren’t just about selling product; they’re a movement, a conversation with their followers about working together to improve the world. And that conversation, a human one, needs to start with your employees. A brand’s purpose is an inside-out activity, originating with a passionate internal team charged with converting external customers.

In fact, this idea of surrounding your business with die-hard fans, both inside and outside, reflects one of Retail Voodoo’s core philosophies: True believers only.

As brands have changed, becoming standard-bearers for sustainability, compassion, community, quality, transparency — work has changed, too. Today, people no longer look to their job for just a paycheck. It’s part of their personal identity. And they want to be able to connect deeply with the company and share it with other people in their lives.

When you build a business where everyone who touches it buys in, it has huge potential to be a values-driven, disruptive play in your market. You’ll create a brand that always wins and owns an unfair share of the market because so many people are enthusiastic about it.

Help Employees Buy Into Your Mission

A purpose-driven brand will naturally attract talented employees. But it takes effort and nurturing to keep employees engaged. Leaders need to demonstrate that they care for their employees, value their contributions, appreciate their dedication. They’ll see your passion — or lack thereof — and model it.

You need to supply them with tools to stay engaged, and those tools have to be relevant and productive. Workshops and taskforces will backfire if they appear to just be busywork.

Nike — in the news lately because of its issue-driven campaign with Colin Kaepernick — is a great case study on employee engagement. Several years ago, Nike leadership came to us for help understanding why the brand’s front-line retail workers didn’t bleed Nike like corporate employees did. These part-time, hourly workers, typically teens and twentysomethings, worked at Nike stores on their way to somewhere else. Could Nike generate the same fervor in them?

As we worked to build engagement, we identified a major stumbling block: Nike’s 200-page employee handbook. No surprise, retail workers had neither the time nor the interest to digest all that corporate information. So we developed a boiled-down guide for retail staffers that defined what the brand stands for, how the products fulfill its promise, and how to explain that to shoppers.

That brief employee guide proved so successful that Nike’s HR team rolled it out throughout the organization.

5 Keys to Inspiring an Engaged Workforce

1) Keep it simple. See the Nike example above. Your purpose, mission, and vision should be so ingrained in your organization’s DNA that people just feel it. No encyclopedic handbook required.

2) Involve top leadership. Employees should see leaders materially and emotionally participating in the brand’s quest.

3) Stand for something beyond the product. People hunger for meaning in their work. Successful brands do more than sell stuff; they advance a larger mission. Generating passionate fans means you’ll sometimes earn your share of haters, too. Your leadership team may need to go out on a limb to advocate for your mission. Employees will respect that you can take a punch.

4) Be open to discussion. Leaders at every level of the organization should invite questions and contrary points of view. Listen and engage, and have a plan to channel this input in productive ways.

5) Know what your brand promises and how it keeps those promise. Enroll all your people in understanding and shaping the way the brand behaves in the real world and interacts with real customers. Give them ownership to do what they need to do in order to deliver, particularly front-line employees.

If you think the key to keeping employees happy involves ping pong tables or free donuts, think again. You have to give them reasons to believe. Not just on their first day, but every day.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Food & Wellness Brands, Beware: How Redesigns Go Wrong

When you were a kid, you probably begged your parents to let you have cookies before you had dinner, right? You wanted the sweets before you ate your vegetables.

Now that you’re running marketing for a food, beverage or wellness brand, you want the good stuff (cool-looking, trendy identity, and packaging) before you’ve had the good-for-you stuff (business strategy).

We’ll be the grown-ups here and tell you: No design until you’ve done the strategy first.

This design-before-strategy trap is becoming even more prevalent: We’re finding that about 75% of our prospective clients just want something pretty and they want it now. Why the rush? These are the most common reasons we see for moving forward quickly with design changes:

  • Brands haven’t allocated appropriate resources (dollars or people) to develop a sound foundational strategy.
  • CEOs and CMOs have been burned in the past by hasty redesigns, and they’re not convinced they should spend the time or money to do it right. See the irony here?
  • People in business tend to overestimate their own taste and expertise; they’ve supervised design projects before so they think they can fast-track the latest one.
  • Design is a tangible outcome and research is not, and it’s hard for people to be patient enough to wait for that outcome.
  • There’s a false sense of urgency: the sales team wants the change now, retailers are barking at the door, and competitors are coming into the market.

We get it. Setting the stage for an effective design or redesign takes time: The process we walk our clients through typically runs six to eight months. It’s intimidating: Research might reveal mistakes you’ve made; category reviews might show that your competitors are trouncing you at retail. It takes resources: You need to allocate a budget and secure the commitment from your leadership team.

And it’s worth pointing out that brand strategy does not equal creative strategy; one comes before the other, which is important to keep in mind when you set your expectations for working with an agency.

The Problems of Redesigning without Strategy

Design becomes a beauty contest. Let’s line up three splashy new packaging systems and pick one. Which one? The one the loudest voice in the room (the CEO) favors. This is a great approach only if your leadership team knows exactly how to pick a winning, on-brand, culturally relevant design that not only appeals to current customers but also captures a huge new audience. (I have met just two in thirty years who could do this.)

Design is just guess. Without the appropriate competitive analysis, trend forecasting, white-space mapping, and brand-driven positioning language, creative execution is a total shot in the dark. How do you make design decisions that will stand out on shelf, attract buyers, and stand the test of time if you don’t understand what the market needs and wants?

Design is a short-cut solution. You’re under pressure from retail partners seeking greater velocity, and you need a redesign — fast. So you skip the three months of strategy work and go straight to picking colors and typefaces.

Design is knee-jerk reaction. You’re just chasing trends in search of a sales spike. So you redesign every 18 to 24 months in response to what’s hot in ingredients, graphics, or food photography.

Redesigning becomes an endless cycle. When the creative execution fails to move the needle, and it inevitably does, the marketing team takes another swing at it. Bad design begets bad design, and pretty soon everyone thinks it’s the design’s (and the designers’) fault. It’s the natural outcome every time.

What does a smart redesign in our space look like? Check out Kashi’s 2016 brand overhaul. They updated the logo, dropping the swishy rectangular background and emphasizing the leaf motif. The mark plays a more prominent role on packaging, yet it’s still familiar to fans. New boxes feature super-close product photography on a stark white background. A primary typography system reinforces the brand’s iconic green. It’s a pretty major redesign, but still completely in line with what the brand was before. The Kellogg team clearly built the redesign against Kashi’s existing brand strategy and in response to the marketplace, instead of changing for the sake of change.

And we’ll bet that Kashi’s marketers won’t be doing another redesign anytime soon.

You only have to look at Coke and Pepsi to know that a brand’s design can last for years. They hang on to those design systems because there’s so much equity — customers freak out if the brands make even the smallest tweak.

So, that last design your brand team unveiled … How’s that going? Not what you wanted? Thinking about a do-over? Let us guide you through it — the right way.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Change is Hard. These Seven Tactics Make it Easier to Manage

“Things change.” “Change is good.” “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Platitudes about change abound, but here’s one thing you won’t see on a motivational poster backed by a scenic mountain photo: Change is hard.

It’s supposed to be. Change is risky, scary, inconvenient, messy. And we see it all, up close. Food and wellness brands come to us when they’re on the brink of change or in the thick of it — change that they haven’t anticipated and don’t necessarily want, often brought on by rapidly shifting consumer preferences and a turbulent retail landscape.

The changes we facilitate tend to be monumental — not a packaging tweak but a holistic repositioning or refocused brand strategy. And sometimes they’re painful, as we discovered when one of our recent clients came to us because they were floundering after a rebrand/renaming. Based on our consumer data that showed that customers still knew the brand by its original name, we recommended that the company return to that name. It was a real leadership moment: The CEO had to step up, own the mistake, and be the bright light shining through the chaos.

So let’s say you’re the wolf: You’ve been tasked with instigating or managing a seismic shift in your organization. Maybe there’s been a management shakeup, or the CEO may be looking to sell. Maybe you once led the category but you haven’t kept up with consumers’ wants and whims and you’ve lost share. Maybe a new competitor is chewing up the category. Whatever’s sparking the change, you’re expected to guide the team through it.

Take a deep breath and ready yourself with these tactics we’ve gathered from helping our clients deal with change wisely and well:

1. Acknowledge the fear. Understand the psychology of what you’re about to do and don’t dismiss your team’s fears. If change is challenging for you, it’s likely more so for others in the organization, who feel powerless and worry that their comfortable routines will be turned upside-down. Listen and share frequently and strategically; gather input and buy-in along the way. But don’t unveil the finished work until it’s ready for prime time.

2. Expect resistance. From all quarters: long-term employees who are happy with how things have been done forever, finance & operations people who are charged with getting results, marketing staffers who know the biggest impact will be on their department. Know that the sales team will be early and vocal objectors — they’ve been successfully selling the product for years, and they’ll object to changing their pitch. But they’ll also be the fastest adopters once they “get” the vision.

3. Start with strategy. A strong strategic foundation — one that addresses consumer trends, acknowledges market realities, and drives business growth — gives the team confidence and common ground. Strategy becomes a toolbox that guides everyone — from the CEO to the front desk receptionist — on how to behave in their role to contribute to the brand’s success.

4. Enlist advocates. Creating a solid group of key stakeholders at the outset gives you an internal leadership team that co-authors the brand and becomes your ally when it comes time to strategically leak news. Encourage your advocates to share their personal experiences as insiders involved in the process along with information about how the project is unfolding and what’s to come.

5. But know that not everyone will get on board. In fact, we request that HR management is part of any rebranding or repositioning project we’re involved with because there’s always a training/coaching component to change. And staffers who resist and fight their way through the strategy development process may need to be asked to leave before they poison the well. Ask your HR partner for help identifying potential resisters and getting them on track or out the door.

6. Make it feel special. Tap your internal advocates to help build a sense that the change represents an opportunity to further a brand they’re passionate about. Connect this initiative to the brand’s greater purpose. Celebrate milestones and create momentum to fuel excitement.

7. Use language to gain buy-in. Reality exists in language. Having the brand strategy and talking points that answer questions will be key to calming your team’s nerves. We use language to teach the teams we work with how to describe their products and why they exist in the world. This is especially crucial for the sales team: Unless they buy in, they’ll never be able to make a presentation about the product.

Change can be humbling — it means admitting that what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, that your competitors are moving faster than you are. Or that you’re just flat-out wrong. That’s a real test for company leaders.

Done well, change can be a catalyst not for fear and internal squabbling, but for collaboration, growth, and rededication to the cause. The objective is not comfortable complacency, but transformational business success. On the other side awaits greater clarity, sharpened vision, and teams that are aligned with the vision and confident in moving forward.

Change ain’t easy. That’s why it’s essential. And when you’re ready, we’re here to help.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Guiding Growth for a Passion Brand

We’ve seen it so often it’s become a cliché: The veteran marketer, disillusioned by the lack of opportunity for career growth in a big CPG company, jumps to an emerging food or wellness brand. She’s inspired by the founder’s passion and excited to bring her expertise to the table.

And then a few weeks into the job, she realizes that things aren’t … well … as she expected they’d be.

The founder/owner’s drive, passion, and ability to move quickly and on the cheap works great until about $5mm, and then it gets in the way. The brand is ripe for growth, yet the team is hesitant to let go of what brought them this far. And while there’s tons of opportunity for new revenue, the owner doesn’t want to be seen as chasing big bucks.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve come from a big marketing engine to help a fledgling brand grow, you’ll likely find that most of what you know isn’t going to work for your new boss. And until he recognizes that you truly get his vision and share his passion, he’ll resist — or even fear — your expertise.

Over years of working with CMOs in the exact spot you’re in, we’ve devised a number of strategies that can help you get your job done in a way that makes a meaningful difference for your brand. Let us show you the way:

Recognize that your No. 1 job isn’t marketing. It’s talking the founder/owner off the ledge. Convincing her that business success does not come at the expense of personal reputation or brand history.

Understand that it’s not business, it’s personal. The brand’s biggest hurdle is the founder’s emotional relationship with it. He looks back with nostalgia to the good old days. Fear lies at the core of the problem: The founder fears that the origin story will be overwritten, and that success will make him look like a sellout.

The founder’s deep attachments affect everything from the color used on a logo to the proper use of the office coffee maker. These preferences may appear irrational, but they’re seated in the owner’s blood, sweat, and tears.

Be an archaeologist. Your first task is to understand the brand’s history so that when you make a recommendation it’s steeped in that history. Dig deep, find every bone in the dirt and bring it to the surface, ask tons of questions. This process of excavation should take three to four months.

And a psychologist. Founders are passionate, entrepreneurial, driven people who are great at invention. But when it comes to maturing a brand or facing a growth challenge, they often make decisions based on personal biases. As the new CMO, you’ll find yourself in the role of therapist as your boss transitions the brand into something different. She’ll be learning to trust others, let go of the past, and with your guidance, develop a new ideal for the brand she started.

Listen reflectively. In every meeting with the owner, every casual conversation, repeat what he says — not to be a parrot but to clarify, learn, and check your assumptions.

Practice tough love. This where your best negotiating/politicking skills will come into play. Whether you do the work internally or hire an external firm, you’ll be in the middle of the relationship, as the founder who has hired you to grow or salvage the company will be intimately involved in each conversation and decision.

Take it slow. Resist the urge to solve the problem immediately. What might make you look like a superhero will feel threatening to the founder. If it’s that easy to right the ship, he’ll feel incompetent for not having done it himself.

If you find yourself in this position, know that you’re not alone: So many CMOs that have landed with passion-driven food and wellness brands have been here, too — and we’ve worked with a lot of them. You’re in for an up-and-down ride. And your biggest challenge may be ahead because you’ll soon start to lose some of the objectivity that made you such a great hire.

Need help? Need to vent? Give us a call.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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In Food & Beverage, M&A Success Relies on Brand Strategy

The purpose of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is to combine the intellectual property, capabilities, and reputations of different entities into something more powerful, more valuable, and ultimately more sustainable over the long-term.

Ownership changes, acquisitions, and huge funding deals continue to swarm the food and beverage industry like flies at the world’s biggest better-for-you summer picnic.

The benefits of an M&A include diversified product and service offerings, increases in capacity and market share, merging operational expertise, shared research and development, and reduced financial risk.

These are all good, but an average of 50 percent of the 70,000 M&As in the last two years failed to create long-term shareholder value (some rank this number as high as a 75 percent failure rate).

There are two key problems that contribute to this:

  • Lack of vision or poor long-term strategy. In most cases, vision and strategy are rolled out after the deal is sealed and usually as a knee-jerk reaction to the people experiencing heartache while the new entity figures out how to increase shareholder value without an articulated vision. Poor strategy is the leading cause of merger failure.
  • Not taking care of the people affected. Failure to acknowledge, plan, and follow through on how to integrate the different cultures prior to the merger can leave employees struggling to cope with cultural differences, politics, and lack of effective communication. And when people feel as though they are being tossed about in a storm without a compelling vision of how they fit into the new big picture, they jump ship.

But take heart, we have seen many M&As succeed culturally and simultaneously increase in value. Simply put, brand strategy allows the acquirer and the acquired to have a shared vision for a shared future that extends beyond simply increased revenue and marketplace dominance by considering the ways they can influence the world – together.

Use the M&A to change what your brand stands for

The questions and decisions leadership makes about brand play a crucial role in unifying the merged entity and maximizing long-term value. Decisions about the brand are signals following a merger or acquisition. Go-forward brand strategy translates how a merger or acquisition makes sense and establishes a compelling vision for the combined new entity that resonates with employees, customers, and the outside world.

A brand is a set of promises your company makes and the manner in which you keep those promises (resulting in what Seth Godin calls memories, stories, and relationships that give people a preference for one product or service over another). Then we can begin to see how brand, although less tangible than a financial report and operational integration plan, can enhance or detract from the likelihood of M&A success.

Use the acquired brand to improve the cultural relevance of your brand

There was much ado about Spam maker Hormel’s acquisition of organic meat producer Applegate Farms in 2015. People began lamenting that the little guys had sold out to greedy corporations and that the big guys used it as an opportunity to squash the little do-gooder brand’s influence on the landscape of consumer concern about our food chain — everything from quality organic standards and sustainability to animal welfare practices. We confess, at first, we were skeptical and a bit freaked out by what they might do to our “Sunday Bacon.” We watched them carefully (along with many brand loyalists) looking for clues suggesting that design and marketing could be masking a decrease in quality or standards.

But we could never produce any evidence.

In short, the little guys weren’t selling out. Instead, the biggest guys in the world bought their way into this emerging ideology and consumer preference. They bought into the future.

Bottom line: Hormel now gets a lot of respect from retailers and clean label-reading consumers for not destroying the integrity or quality of Applegate Farms.

Use brand strategy to inform planned integration – or intentional separatism

Understanding and integrating two different corporate cultures is tricky. Management often assumes that the other company is just like them and then dismisses the need for deeper cultural understanding (especially when acquiring a business in the same or similar industry). But it’s one of the most common reasons for failed mergers. Certainly, it’s much better to have a cultural understanding prior to a merger and keep two brands operating independently until this situation changes.

Unilever’s acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of successfully keeping cultures separate. Throughout the critical post-acquisition integration phase, Ben & Jerry’s successfully retained its culture, corporate identity, and brand image and at the same time became profitable. This happened because the leadership at both organizations knew that combining the cultures would risk destroying Ben & Jerry’s most valuable asset: values-driven culture.

Use brand strategy to define the next generation of your portfolio strategy

In a move that surprises and inspires us, InBev (Anheuser-Busch), the beer giant, acquired Hiball Energy, a producer of organic energy drinks and the Alta Palla brand of sparkling juices and waters.

The acquisition represents a strong desire by InBev to diversify their brand portfolio and to tap into a new high margin, high-growth segment.

“The combination of Hiball’s category-leading organic energy drinks and Alta Palla’s organic sparkling juices and sparkling waters together with our network and operational know-how will create tremendous growth opportunities for these brands,” João Castro Neves, president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch, told the Chicago Tribune.

This acquisition, along with the joint venture with Starbucks and Teavana made in 2016, signals that InBev is actively pursuing brands that will help them with their next generation product portfolio beyond the latest micro-brew industry darling. This forward-thinking during an M&A proves the positive impact brand strategy can have on the overall development of your portfolio.

Use brand strategy to acquire a meaningful innovation pipeline

Large companies innovate to refresh their products and enter new markets. The bigger a company gets, the harder this can be to achieve (success at scale is often the antithesis of innovation). So, many larger companies feel they must acquire a market-leading startup or leading niche player to expand into new markets, feed their innovation pipeline, add new capabilities to fill a gap in its existing capabilities system, or to respond to a change in its market.

Another giant watching consumer trends, Campbell’s Soup, acquired Pacific Foods, currently a leading producer of organic broth and soup. Founded in 1987, Pacific Foods has a sustained track of growth and according to the Campbell press release, “has strong health and well-being and organic credentials, particularly with younger consumers.” Campbell noted that the acquisition will broaden its access to organic customers and channels largely because the Campbell’s Soup brand is not in the consideration set of people looking for healthier options.

Making the conscious – or too frequently unconscious – decision not to focus on brand strategy early on in M&A or waiting until your people are unhappy is a recipe for failure.

With so much opportunity and so much at stake in the fluid yet highly competitive landscape of M&As, we believe that investing in brand strategy to drive your planning and vision at the front-end of the new relationship will reap rewards more quickly and sustainably.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Brand Strategy Checklist 2: Mental Strength for Purpose-driven Brands

In segment one of our brand strategy checklist, we explored the external forces shaping your brand. In part two, we examine the areas of your brand strategy driven by the psychology of your management team.

It has been said that the success, challenges, and struggles of any business are the direct result of the psychology of the leadership. This is where brand strategy expands the domain of marketing. It’s where the perception of marketing changes. It goes from being viewed as a mechanism for the organization to always be reaching outside itself for answers and ultimately customers and sales to begin to influence organizational development at the roots of the business. We believe this is one of the most overlooked areas of brand strategy.

In order for brand strategy to become a powerful driving force for your organization, you need to get out of your own head. This means that you and your team need language to describe the real and (hopefully) dramatic differences between your brand and your competitive set. Then, it is up to leadership to understand and evangelize the way your organization’s self-talk, behavior, and vocabulary shapes your employees’ and customers’ experiences.

We will look at:

  • The 12 questions you need to ask yourself to build a mentally strong, purpose-driven brand.
  • How and why to conduct a cultural assessment.
  • The importance of brand positioning.
  • Tips and tricks on how to meaningfully separate yourself from the competition.
  • How each of these components affects your brand’s known and unknown gaps.

Cultural Assessment

What is it?
A cultural assessment is a look at the driving forces within the company to understand historical preferences, passions and quirks, social, economic and marketplace bias, strategic assumptions, and marketplace performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe that the fish stinks from the head down. If there is a cultural problem, it’s almost certain to be a leadership problem. We conduct a cultural assessment as part of a key stakeholder survey. One of the outcomes is overall company appetite for change.

What you can do with it:
Once you understand your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, you can only get so far without C-level commitment and permission to affect change.

Questions to ask:
1. How is the psychology of your leadership team impacting your brand?
2. If there was evidence to suggest a change would be better for the growth of the organization, what would help you to feel safe about making a change?
3. What will happen to your brand, products, and people if you continue to do the same things you have been doing?


What is it?
Onlyness is the thing that only your brand brings to the world. This idea comes from Marty Neumeier’s book Zag: The Number-one Strategy of High-performance Brands. In the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout also circle around the idea of onlyness with what they call, “The Law of Focus.”

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe in getting as specific as possible, so your brand is either number one or number two in its category. If you can’t be number one or number two, then you need a new category. We mix the what you make or do with your how and why in order to define your brand in people’s minds. This process can give the perception that becoming a brand with an onlyness requires the sacrifice of opportunity in the market. However, what we see with great frequency is that true onlyness empowers leadership to start new ventures and stop others that no longer make sense in the light of an articulated brand strategy.

What you can do with it:
Onlyness is a powerful confidence booster for your sales team. Spoken with credibility (and believed by the speaker), an onlyness will up your sales game and your marketing strategy.

Questions to ask:
1. Who else in your category could currently claim your onlyness?
2. What should your brand start or stop making or doing in order make your onlyness true?
3. How many subcategories or distinctions does it take to get your brand to become a category of one?

Positioning Statement

What is it?
It’s a clear statement of your brand’s market position in relation to the categories you play in and the competition. Positioning frequently starts with a product (such as a piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution or person). Given this, one might think “we make a better cup of coffee” is a fine position, but that is actually twentieth-century advertising thinking at its worst. It is a common mistake.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Positioning is really about your brand’s promise becoming secured in the mind of your audience. This requires us to stop looking at the competitive set thinking that we are better. Superlatives such as “better” and “best” focus on subjective comparison. In order to find a hole or white space in the marketplace that can be leveraged to secure your brand in the mind of your audience, we don’t need to create something entirely new. Instead, we need a reality check. Once we fully see what already exists in the marketplace, we work to rewire the perception to focus on how the audience perceives the situation and how we help them.

What you can do with it:
A positioning statement helps retail buyers and your target audiences understand how you are different and why they should care or think about your brand at all.

Questions to ask:
1. Can your sales and marketing teams explain your positioning statement?
2. Who else in your category could claim similar positioning of your offering?
3. Do you understand the why behind your differences and similarities?

Gap Analysis

What is it?
A gap analysis involves the comparison of actual performance with potential or desired performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We focus our gap analysis on systems and leadership required to empower the organization to bring its new brand strategy fully to life. We look at performance and benchmark it against the new strategy’s potential through the lens of culture, daily behaviors, and technological know-how. The goal: unearth a prescription which emphasizes action, process improvements, product optimization, portfolio alignment, and personnel.

What you can do with it:
With a brand strategy-driven gap analysis in place, your brand’s leadership can establish an easy-to-use road map and follow it across a multi-year growth plan.

Questions to ask:
1. Why is your brand no longer getting the traction you once enjoyed in the marketplace?
2. What milestones, events, or marketplace shifts have occurred in the past two years?
3. Are you struggling with people, places, processes, and/or products in our brand?

In the third and final installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will discuss the areas that affect the soul of your brand. If you missed part one, we discuss the external physical forces that influence your brand, so be sure to check that out as well.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Four Cornerstones of Leadership for Wellness, Diet & Exercise Brands

Boxing legend and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” We couldn’t agree more. Leading through the lens of brand requires consistency and transparency, and a delicate balance of listening and coaching. But humans are messy and complex, even for those in leadership roles. And for that reason, you need a plan. That’s where brand strategy comes into play.

While the details and process of brand strategy are finely detailed, you can use some foundational blocks to start the process, or at least anchor your brand until you have a formalized plan in place.

We’ve created a set of foundation cornerstones to help you lead through the lens of brand.

Know Thy Brand’s Purpose

Purpose is why you exist beyond making a profit.

Most of you reading this article probably understand your brand’s purpose. After all, you are likely working in the better-for-you space and have a strong opinion about wellness, diet, and exercise. It’s also probably why you started the company or joined the organization.

Sometimes, purpose-driven brands find themselves behaving like ordinary brands because they make their purpose complicated. They forget that a brand can be boiled down to this: the promises you make and the way in which you keep them.

But simple is hard. So, here is an exercise to challenge you: write your purpose down and then simplify it by cutting it in half. Keep going until a fifth grader can explain what you wrote and your organization can still deliver it.

Know Thy Brand’s Values

Knowing what you stand for as an organization seems like a no-brainer. But many leaders struggle to articulate their values in language that is specific, believable, and contagious (one of the hallmarks of a great brand), especially when faced with unfavorable performance or sea-change. It is good to have an oral history that employees and customers experience over time through branded lore and storytelling. It’s better to have your values written down.

Know Thy Brand’s People

In purpose-driven brands we often have an advantage because we have hired our most loyal customers as employees. These avid users are built-in evangelists, who know the ins and outs of how our brand fits into their lives. The best employees are often the most outspoken of your stark-raving fans – which shows up as evangelism for the lifestyle that your brand supports.

Know Thy Brand’s Customer

Those of you that are lucky enough to have a team dedicated to customer research and data or have already purchased and analyzed customer data know that there is a little bit of magic and gut checking necessary to truly understand the numbers. However, at a basic level, all brands have a pretty solid idea of who you are talking to. Start there, and keep it simple.

This is where things can get tricky. All the data in the world will only tell you so much. And hiring raving fans as your employees comes with a bit of a double-edged sword – especially in purpose-driven brands. There is something called the awareness gap or the presumed self-identification as your best customer. In short, if all of your best customers are employed by your company then real growth is not possible. Sometimes, in an effort to see customers as not-us it’s important to bring in an outsider.

It may seem strange to hear a strategy firm focus on simplicity. But at the end of the day, as a leader, you should not need crib sheets or require a transcription service to remember what your brand stands for. Simplicity is what will help you and your entire organization make decisions.

No one likes to be “hit in the face.” But those that are prepared, can rebound quickly. The cornerstones help set the foundation on which your brand can be built solidly. Start with the basics and you can’t go wrong. And remember – we’re in your corner.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Put Your Morals Where Your Mouth Is

Contribution. There’s a big difference between a cause and a claim. You can make a claim, but you have to live a cause.

In part one of this article, I discussed the concepts of branded ritual as tools for marketers who are tasked with taking a brand stand they can uniquely own. Then, in part two, I demonstrated the value of understanding your archetype to build brand strategy. In part three we will explore the importance of contribution as a differentiating brand strategy and powerful tool in self-selection.

With declining trust in traditional institutions, people today are increasingly using brands and consumption to express their identity and signal their values. People come together under a shared set of values or emotions.

People use brands as badges, but more importantly, most people connect with brands in ways that they traditionally would have with their church, hometown, or alma mater. The brands people choose are important signals to their identities but are also components of their shared activities and social lives.

It seems rather simple (albeit heavy-handed religious zealotry) to elevate one’s value system to a manifesto. The benefits are often underestimated by traditional marketers:

  • Attract and converse with people that are moved by your bold declarations.
  • Repel those who disagree or are unmoved by your position.

By leading many brave organizations through the process (and then finally having the nerve to follow through for my own organization) I have learned that you will know you are on the right path when it looks like this.

Deep and painful soul-searching in the quest for more relevance. This leads to…

Doubt and fear that I may have taken the wormhole that is the equivalent to peeing my pants in a dark suit –feels warm for awhile but nobody notices.

Good news: Fear almost instantly gives way to the new opportunities and future I see by having a self-selecting clientele.

Clarity on new business opportunities, product, and services that I can and should add to support the way I am helping make a difference for people.

Effective marketing because I know who I am speaking to, who I have excommunicated (which is equally important) as well as those who have left the church because we are no longer ideologically compatible.

Why don’t more brand managers do this?

Based on personal witness validated from my peers, I think it comes down to lack.

Lack of authority. Not many marketers are allowed to redirect the soul of the organization to match their own values. It’s better and possible if what you believe aligns with the founder of your organization. That said, I have stood inside the walls of P&G and witnessed miracles based upon values (Million-ways-of-motherhood and Unicef).

Lack of originality. I’ve seen a lot of “me too” in brands who tell us they are satisfied with their postioning. This is usually due to having a cookie cutter mentality and in some cases peeking too frequently at our neighbor’s paper. The truth is that if your causes and beliefs are similar to others it still takes vision to have your translation show up as original. The key lies deeply rooted in the soul of your organization. Honesty and persistency will manifest themselves in unique and meaningful ways.

Lack of passion. Many organizations put so much short term performance pressure on marketers that they inadvertently suck the life out of their people. These folks start to believe they can no longer afford their own values. Over time this creates an unhealthy culture that can degrade even the strongest brands.

Making the case for contribution as brand strategy.

The spiritual case for contribution

People are hungry and looking for meaning in our increasingly detached world. Obvious examples, including our clients PCC, REI and KIND, operate this way instinctively. They never had to make the decision to market and brand build around a higher calling because their battle cry is inherent to their business model.

But even those of us who are working with live ammo and balancing the pressure of daily performance should take heart. Based on my work with many leaders at times of transition, I can tell you that when they consider their legacy (personally and that of their brand during their watch), not a single leader cites economic growth of the business as the top goal. In fact, every one of them talked to me about their contribution to other people‘s lives.

The cultural case for contribution

Two words. Employee engagement. People want to work somewhere where the employees are pumped about their mission. Contribution focused businesses by far have mission statements that go way beyond the typical check list of why a mission statement exists.

Leading mangement guru, David Maister put it like this: “It’s about the wow factor.” People are looking to belong to something and are looking for employment that contributes to their lives far more deeply than the paycheck ever could. I took this to heart as our own manifesto demonstrates.

The financial case for contribution

Today many companies are making efforts to put mindful and sustainable business practices into action. Yet despite daily stories of consumer activism, many still ask the important question: Does caring convert into action when it comes down to a buying decision? New data from Google and Nielsen find that the answer is yes for a growing number of consumers around the world.

Being a meaningful brand is not only good for your market and the community at large, it’s also good for your bottom line. In addition to outperforming their competitors in traditional brand measures such as esteem, differentiation and awareness, the top 20% of brands also dramatically outperform financial leaders across a spectrum of industries. In fact, according to Meaningful Brands those brands ranked as Meaningful enjoy financial results that exceed those of top hedge funds. These are financial advantages that are durable and sustainable.

So how does a brand leader get to meaning?

Read. A lot. Take time to reflect on what the world would be like if your brand didn’t exist. Keeping brainstorming until the answer arrives. If you need help, Tony Robbins is the Freud of our generation.

People wouldn’t care if 92% of brands disappeared.

A new study from Meaningful Brands, shows that in Europe and the U.S., people would not care if 92% of brands disappeared. Profit is not bad. In fact, for business, it is kind of like oxygen is for humans. But humans are the life force of business. And not many people in today’s workforce are inspired to come to work for a corporation that could give a rip about its people.

As you think about how to transform into one of the 8% of brands people would miss or care about, I share an example of how not to make it. I recently sat in a coffee chain that was just purchased by new owners and overheard the leadership saying something to the effect of not giving a fly-f about the baristas.

Let’s peek inside the café and see what is going on.

  • Everyone hates everyone.
  • There are only 5 customers. All old white guys getting refills of drip.
  • Nobody buys the fake Italian espresso or the hipster inspired window graphics.
  • The pastry case feels day old even though I witnessed today’s delivery.
  • The actual coffee knowledge of the folks working the counter is zilch.

Meanwhile down the block in all 5 directions, Starbucks (Mission: Nurture the world one cup at a time) and 2 indie coffee houses are jammed to the point that getting a table is almost aerobic.

Beyond obvious differences why is everyone else winning? They have taken the time and steps to understand why they exist outside of making money.

3 ways to fast-track the purpose conversation in your organization.

1. Stand for something that would be missed if/when it disappears.

Think Patagonia’s take on environmentalism and meaningful capitalism. Don’t buy this shirt.

2. Right a wrong.

Badge brand owners have to be able to stand up and fight—against wrong-headed ideas, fads and ideas that don’t align with your brand. The most meanigful of these take on human-centered problems.

3. Focus not on what you make, but on what you make happen.

Do something counter intuitive to business: give. Your brand must get in touch with our twenty-first century definition of value: “What I get must be greater than what I give.”

Chipotle thrives by taking this approach. They didn’t let their size, their corporate roots or their competition dictate who they want to be in the world or what they want to contribute. And as a result, they are seen as leading the quest for wholesome and sustainable food.

Good for people. Good for the world. Good for business.

People. Purpose. Profits. However you say it, meaning is the new black and the winning brands of the future have triple bottom lines. The degree to which a brand’s purpose influences purchases and loyalty is jaw dropping. Contribution is quickly becoming table stakes for long-term market leadership. But for those brands that have defined their higher purpose, who view customers as people and partners in change, the future is bright.

Tell me again, why does your brand exist?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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Using Values to Differentiate & Define Your Brand

Brand values impact relationships and reputation – two key business assets that are earned (rather than bought). When the marketplace is cluttered and consumers have tiny attention spans, brands must bring something more valuable to customers than their product or service. They must connect with consumers through shared principles.

Ethos can best be described as beliefs and behaviors that advance an ideology. Brands, just like people, have values they hold near and dear to their hearts. These principles form the reasons that brands exist.

In our profit-driven world, many brands consider emulating values as an afterthought. It’s easy for leaders to have tunnel vision focusing on the bottom line instead of turning their eyes internally to reflect on the company’s original mission. But just as the marketplace changes, the consumer changes. The individuals with the highest spending power care less about the “what” or the “how” and more on the “why.”

Brand values influence two important business assets:

1. Relationships build loyal customers and organic brand ambassadors

Relationships are built on trust, and trust is built on delivering on your promise. In our overcrowded marketplace, points of difference that are function- and future-based are no longer sustainable. Consumers today are tuning out marketing and tuning into those brands that represent shared values.

2. Reputation forms the basis of an enduring brand legacy

Reputation revolves around respect and legacy – both are earned, rather than bought. This highlights the importance of companies putting values first rather than profits. Since many companies fail to do this, a brand that excels at earning respect and creating a meaningful legacy will earn a stellar reputation.

Clifford Geertz, arguably the godfather of cultural anthropology, put it this way: Ethos and worldview describe how cultures create a seamless, unified system. The ethos, which is an understanding of how we should act in the world, is supported by the worldview, which is our picture of how the world really is, and vice versa.

In a sense, ethos and worldview are what differentiate one culture from another, and it is the culture that traditionally gives individuals their definition of self, who they are, what they believe, and how they should act.

Let’s take REI for an example of an ethos-driven company. Through equipping customers (and employees) for adventure, REI promotes a love of the outdoors and stewardship of nature. REI is an employee-centric operation meaning they attribute the success of their company to their workers and offer incentives for them to live out the brand promise of engaging with nature. These values translate into happy and passionate employees, which then permeates every aspect of their business to create a strong, loyal customer base.

When employees live out brand values, those principles naturally translate to the right customers.

Patagonia thrives by wearing its ethos on its sleeve as well. The company’s Common Threads initiative converted people into customers based on the shared desire to do more with less. Leading with “reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, reimagine,” they speak to consumers’ interest in sustainability and doing good for the planet. It is aspirational and inspirational. They even launched an e-commerce recycled clothing site called Worn Wear to encourage a “sharing is caring” mentality. Not only does this subtly remind consumers that their high-quality products last a lifetime and commitment to sustainability, but it also encourages storytelling around the adventures the brand equipped.

Ethos-based brands value their purpose more than their profits. They eliminate a sales-first culture and focus on things money can’t buy. They live their convictions, rather than conform to the convictions of the marketplace.

Ethos-driven brands listen more, and market less. They elevate the quality of life for their cult followers.

Shared values form the basis for all relationships. Wherever we go in business, and in life, we bring our own values along. When others share our values, this becomes a powerful and attractive force to bind us closer together. Enlightened brand owners realize that in our busy days, most of us have little time for things and people that don’t really matter to us.

For brands to matter, the customer must believe the brand is bringing something more valuable to them than the money they spend.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
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Brand Purpose: The Key to a Cult Following

It’s no secret that everybody yearns to be a part of something greater than themselves, their loved ones and their work. But it does seem to be a secret to many brands.

So let us tell you: not only can brands do well by doing good; they can, in fact, create devoted, avid cults around them if they commit to a deeper mission or raison d’etre. People respond to brands that inspire, give back and work for more than profits.

Who doesn’t want to support brands that do good things within their communities or to the larger world community? Some brands that started small grew in a big way due to the quality of their product, their business practices, and their philanthropic bent. Don’t kid yourselves: all of these things matter.

For example, Ben & Jerry’s support of environmental and social causes is legendary; it goes to their earliest days and the heart of their brand. They also practice sustainability within their business and give back to the local community. The consistent quality of their product, and the innovative way in which they launch quirky new products are hallmarks of their brand. These are all of the ingredients in the secret sauce that keep a brand relevant… a brand that continues to grow and maintain a cult following.

Our friends and fellow Seattleites, PCC Natural Markets, support local and organic farming, embrace sustainability and work to establish standards of the highest quality for the food products that it offers to the community. PCC is also a major donor to the PCC Farmland Trust, a non-profit that seeks to preserve farmland and move it into organic production. The brand talks the talk and walks the walk.

It’s transparent and it’s authentic; a top priority if brands want to create a cult following. Note that PCC is also deeply committed to a cause that’s greater than doing business profitably. Even cooler: it’s set up on the co-op model with 10 stores and 52,000 members and counting, who have a stake in PCC Natural Markets. Nothing inspires a community like having direct ownership in a brand that has a larger mission.

Why B Corps Rock

We’ve always been fans of Benefit Corporations, better known as B Corps, because inherent in their brand DNA is the desire to do business at a higher level. Sure, they’re in business to turn a profit and that’s great because if they’re not profitable they’re not going to stick around for very long.

These are brands that show the value of “conscious capitalism”. They build sustainability into their business models. They support worthy local, national and worldwide causes. Many support Fair Trade initiatives and small producers locally, nationally and abroad, and in doing so help to create shared economic growth while taking better care of our planet. These kinds of initiatives resonate with consumers and employees. In a big way.

There are other benefits, too. B corps can lead new movements. They differentiate their brands from competitors and pretenders – the brands that talk in a big way but do little in reality, other than an occasional local donation to a worthy cause. B Corps also have a way of generating PR without having to do all of the grunt work themselves. And they attract and engage real talent; people who want to work for them and contribute in meaningful ways because of who they are.

There are many solid-performing B Corps aside from Ben & Jerry’s. Method, Patagonia, Etsy and Warby Parker are all rock stars within the B Corps constellation. Almost 1,000 companies, large and small, from across the globe are certified B Corps, and the movement continues to grow.

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado is a new breed of B Corp. Founded in 1989 by Jeff Lebesch and his wife, Kim Jordan, they set out with a core mission of crafting world-class beers while being environmental stewards. The company states that they “Look for ways to be less wasteful, be more efficient, recycle and reuse”. Reducing waste and water usage while lowering energy costs are cornerstones of the brand. Employees and owners work together to give grants to organizations that support sustainable agriculture, environmental advocacy and water conservation, among other worthwhile causes.

To top it off, New Belgium Brewery became 100% employee-owned in 2012 after the company set up an ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Program and is all about full transparency in its business dealings and financials. Quality and innovation are equally important. To reiterate: all of these things taken together are components of the cult brand value equation. And it’s proof that you don’t have to be the size of a major corporation to create a cult. Local and regional companies, small and mid-sized, can create their own rabid fan bases.

Corporate Karma

There’s no mystery as to why brands like these create enthusiastic cults around themselves, right?
Their uniqueness starts on the inside and draws attention and devotees from the outside, making these brands grow exponentially.

You know the adage: “It’s better to give than to receive”. Ironically, those who give the most tend to be gifted in a far more significant way. We call it corporate karma.

And, hey, if your brand is lacking the richness and core meaning that lead to creating a meaningful cult and greater value, no worries. It’s never too late to reinvigorate your brand with a deeper purpose and mission. If the guys at Unilever are reevaluating their business model and becoming more community-oriented, why aren’t you?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David